Today is my first day back in rewriting mode. I've spent the last two weeks listening to feedback from various friends and thus successfully delaying the process of doing any real work on my script. And though I still have one or two more people to hear from, I decided that today I would at least re-read my script and start making notes on the changes that I might make once I really start rewriting. Sort of a warm up. Plus, if I didn't do that, I would really have nothing else to do and there is nothing that drives me crazy more than sitting at my desk staring at the wall or the computer.
So I grabbed the script and a red pen and sat on the couch for several hours, slowly going through the script. It's amazing what some time away from the material can do to open your eyes to all the mistakes and problems you could not see before. Suddenly entire scenes are exposed as the useless moments they are and lines of dialogue are rendered redundant or too expository or just plain lame. A friend of mine had told me a few nights ago that although she really liked the script, she found some of it to be too "on the surface" and that I was missing some depth and nuances. I only half-agreed until this afternoon, when her criticisms seemed suddenly very clear. What I had thought was going to be a little nip/tuck job on the script now appears to be a full blown operation, complete with organ transplants, amputations and a lot of bleeding. No outpatient services for this script, nurse.
Fortunately, I like rewriting. "Writing is rewriting," they say. It's still a time when anything is possible in the story, when anything can be changed and, hopefully, improved. Better to do it now than when you're shooting, or worse, when you're in the editing room and better come up with a miracle. Rewriting is a time to think, to mull to ruminate and erase and scribble and jot. Make a lot of big X's across entire pages. Feel like your clearing brush out of the reader's path so they can get to your ending without getting lost along the way.
I remember finishing my first draft of my first screenplay. It was probably eight years ago. I was elated. I had actually written a movie. I could sell it tomorrow. Shoot it in a few months. No one else in my class, that I knew of, had done so. And I had done it quickly. "You wrote a feature?" They'd ask. "Already?" "Yep," I'd say, nonchalant. "Wow," they'd say, impressed. "I'm still working on the first scene of mine." To which I'd reply: "Nothing to it. I'll probably start another one tomorrow."
Boy was I wrong. When the script was read in my "feature writing workshop," a thousand questions popped up that I had never seen coming: Why was this character this way? Why did that character do that? What's the point of that scene? Apparently I had written the narrative equivalent of swiss cheese. I had thought the damn thing was airtight! So naturally I assumed that these readers were simply stupid. How could they not get it? It must be something wrong with them. But as the session wore on, I realized that nothing was wrong with them. Whatever had made perfect sense in my head had not made it onto the page in a way anyone else understood. There had been interference on the line between my brain and the keys of my Mac Classic. (Yes, I was still writing on a Mac Classic in 1997). My head hurt. The script felt like it was beyond repair. A disaster. Something had to be done.
That something, was rewriting. And rewriting. Ten drafts, then twenty drafts. And on and on. Just when I'd think I was out, they'd pull me back in. And slowly, but surely, that script got better. Maybe even good.
But more important, I got better at writing.
And eight years later, I'm still rewriting.